Castles and walled cities have existed
since the dawn of human history. According to the Biblical account, when
Joshua led the children of Israel into Canaan, approximately 1250-1400
BC, he began by marching the Ark of the Covenant, the priests, and the
army of Israel around the walled city of Jericho seven days. On the last
day, the city walls collapsed and Jericho fell to Israel. Jericho may
have been one of the oldest cities in the world, built as early as 7000
BC. Rahab, the woman who helped Israelite spies from inside Jericho, lived
in a house located “upon the town wall.” Jerusalem, first
mentioned in an Egyptian text about 1900 BC, was also a walled city, as
were most, if not all cities of the time.
The Egyptians built many fortifications
and other walled structures, including many of their great temples. The
example presented in The Castle Builder’s Handbook is based on a
relief carving showing an outpost built by the forces of Seti I during
their campaign in Canaan in 1300 BC. This far-flung outpost exemplified
the expanse of the powerful Egyptian Empire.
This outpost is made of ¾” pine stock. It is attached to
a ½” plywood base and ½” plywood is used for
The earliest castles in Europe were Neolithic
hill-top forts. Early Bronze Age fortifications dating from as early as
3000 BC were constructed on hill tops and often enclosed as much as several
hundred acres. The remains of over 2400 Bronze and Iron Age hilltop forts
are scattered across England.
Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, in southern England, was built on a site
first occupied around 3000 BC. The last fortifications were begun there
in the fifth century BC and completed by 200 BC. Maiden was actually a
large walled city, enclosing nearly fifty acres and housing approximately
5000 people. Early castles of this type were often log stockades built
on the top of earthen mounds or natural hills. The walls were built above
steep sloping sides, with a ditch in front and a more gradual slope behind.
Ditches were dug around the hill site (called a scarp), with rings of
counter-scarps thrown up around the hill. At Maiden Castle, three or four
such rings surrounded the site. Although many were log, the stockades
were made of anything close at hand: split tree trunks, a wattle of interlaced
branches, or briar hedges, sometimes stone walls. Huge wooden gates were
built at the entrance points. During the final period of Maiden Castle,
the log walls at the entrance sites were replaced and reinforced with
The model presented in The Castle Builder’s Handbook is on a very
small scale: 1/274 (figure height: 1/2 mm). The base is formed of paper
machete and the stockade is made of toothpicks cut at ¾”
and pushed into holes drilled into the machete, so that ½”
is left protruding above the surface. The buildings are cut from ½” dowels. The roofs are made from paper, with sawdust glued to the surface.
The ground is spray-painted green and then covered with model railroad
grass. Roads are covered with model railroad gravel.
About the time that Maiden Castle was
in its final building phase, the ancestors of the Picts, in the far north
of Scotland were building rock structures called brochs. They were built
starting approximately 100 BC, perhaps as a defense against the builders
of the hill forts. Brochs were stone towers, some as much as 50 feet high,
surrounded by a walled court. The broch was built with a double thickness
of wall. Stairways and wooden galleries were built in the space between
the two walls. The towers were of dry stone construction, without the
use of mortar. An example is the broch at Clickhimin, shown here.
The construction of Clickhimin Broch gives the model castle builder a
chance to build in stone. The stones used in the construction of the broch
are the typical gravel found in driveways or along the sides of paved
roadbeds. Gather small gravel, averaging about pea size. Wash the gravel
thoroughly and then let it dry. The gravel is held in place to form the
structure by means of hot glue. That’s all there is to it except
for the base, a bit of wood for the platform and gates of the gatehouse,
and some framing and wood shingles for the roofs. The first rows of stones
for the broch, outer walls, gatehouse, and other structures are glued
to a plywood base. The other rows are glued to those stones. See the full
plans in The Castle Builder’s Handbook.
During the Roman era, the empire’s
engineers and legions constructed walled villas and forts over much of
Europe. One of the most famous was the wall of Hadrian across northern
Britain constructed of stone and turf between the years 122 and 136 AD.
The wall was six feet high and eight feet thick and was faced by a flat-bottomed
As the Roman army marched from place to place, it erected a palisade around
its campsites, wherever they stopped for the night. The poles were apparently
carried from camp to camp by the soldiers.
Roman forts were rectangular stone structures with square or rounded towers
or bastions jutting from the walls. An example is that at Porchester dating
from the third century AD to defend the British coast against Saxon raiders.
Stones were often transported some distance. Earthenware tiles were also
used in the construction of Roman forts. Timber was also used in less
accessible and/or less important sites. The Romans in Britain faced Picts
to the north, Scots to the west, and, after the third century AD, Saxons
raiding the coasts.
When the Romans pulled out of England, they left the Britons to face the
Picts and Scots alone. The Saxon raids turned into full-scale invasion.
Motte and Bailey Castles
After the collapse of Charlemagne’s
Roman Empire in the 9th century AD, Europe was carved up into small territories
under the rule of a hierarchy of kings, dukes, and other nobles. The territory
of the duke or king was divided among lesser, feudal lords who were expected
to pay tribute to the overlord of the territory. The lesser lords in turn
granted parts of their estates to lesser nobles, such as knights, who
paid tribute and service to the lords. The smallest piece of land (fief,
or fee) owned by the knight or other minor lord, was called a manor. In
addition to the lords and nobles, there were surfs (working class, who
owned no land) at each level of land holding.
There was considerable confrontation between lords and their vassals.
As a consequence, the kings, dukes, knights all built fortifications to
protect themselves. So thick were the castles in some parts of Europe
that many were within sight of each other. Some knights were not granted
land but were supported at the castle of one of the lesser lords.
Castle building in Europe developed on the Continent in the 9th century.
The fortifications of the time were built on hills and constructed primarily
of wood. Following the battle of Hastings the Norman Conquest of Britain
was assured through the construction of small wooden forts or “castles” built upon artificial mounds or mottes surrounded by a ditch and a wider
stockade enclosing a wider bailey.
During the 11th century the motte (mound) and bailey castles spread over
Western Europe, especially in Normandy.
When William, Duke of Normandy, invaded England in 1066, he brought castles.
The first castle built by Duke William’s forces was apparently a
prefabricated fort, built in France, taken apart and loaded onto some
of the nearly one thousand ships in his flotilla, and then assembled when
the Norman force landed at Pevensey, on the southwest coast of England.
At the time of the Norman Conquest, there were perhaps only half a dozen
castles in all of England – most built of timber and earthwork by
Norman knights in the service of Edward the Confessor. By 1100, only 34
years after the invasion, there were more than 500 castles in England.
The first Norman castles built in England were designed after the timber
and earthwork castles on the Continent. These castles were motte-and-bailey
castles, which were quick and cheep to build and required no skilled labor.
The motte (a mound) was a flat-topped hill, usually man-made, but sometimes
taking advantage of a natural hill. Mottes varied in size from one hundred
to three hundred feet in diameter at the base and ten to one hundred feet
high. Two examples of motte-and-bailey castles, made of toothpicks are
featured in The Castle Builder’s Handbook.
William was crowned king on Christmas day and promptly put Londoners to
work building a castle. The original Tower of London was apparently a
motte and bailey structure. It was replaced a few years later by a square
stone keep, the White Tower.
The Classic Norman Keep
Shortly after the Normans invaded England,
they began building rectangular stone keeps all over the island. The White
Tower at the Tower of London was begun in 1070, and the keeps at Canterbury
and Colchester about ten years later. These first classic castles were
followed in the twelfth century by numerous such castles all across England.
These castles include some of the most picturesque in the land, including
Bamborough in the far north, Lydford in Cornwall, Dover on the east coast,
Arques, Newcastle, Corfe, Loches, Chepstow, Kenilworth, Rochester, and
many others. A typical Norman keep is featured in The Castle Builder’s
Handbook and as a separate set of plans on the website.
Edward I of England (1239-1307), son of
Henry III, became king in 1272. He invaded Wales in 1277 and destroyed
its autonomy by the Statute of Wales in 1284. To consolidate his conquest,
Edward used the same technique that his fourth great grandfather, William
the Conqueror, had used over two hundred years earlier in his conquest
of England – he built castles. The Edwardian castles were the most
powerful and most technologically developed of any castles ever built
in Great Britain. Edward initiated the largest and most aggressive castle-building
program in British history. His program lasted more than a quarter of
a century. Edward remodeled three royal castles on the English-Welsh border.
He captured and completely rebuilt three native castles. He also had four
new “Lordship” castles constructed. Most significantly, he
built ten new royal castles: Builth, Aberystwyth, Flint, Rhuddlan, Ruthin,
Hope, Conway, Harlech, Caernarvon, and Beaumaris. Edward was an expert
in castle construction. He personally surveyed every site for his castles
and was usually present when the work on each castle began. The construction
of the castles was under the direction of James of St George, regarded
as one of the greatest architects of the Middle Ages.
Edwardian castles were concentric castles, with a four-square inner castle
surrounded by one or two lines of outer walls. The inner walls had strong
round towers at each corner. Keeps were replaced by powerful gatehouses.
The gatehouses were large enough to support the operation of large engines,
such as a gigantic trebuchet, on the roof. Because starvation was a major
consideration in a siege, the Edwardian castles were built with several
postern (secret) gates to bring in supplies, make sorties, or escape if
necessary. The inner bailey was designed to facilitate greater mobility
of defending forces to move from one area to another.
Caerphilly Castle was begun by Gilbert de Clare during the reign of Edward’s
father (about 1267) and was completed at the beginning of Edward’s
conquest of Wales. The Welsh made several desperate attempts to capture
and destroy the castle while it was under construction. Caerphilly was
built on an island in a lake, making the castle impenetrable when completed.
Flint Castle (built 1277-1280) was an experiment in setting the keep forward
to create a massive detached gatehouse. Although ideas from Flint were
used in later castles, the idea of a detached gatehouse was not used again.
Conway Castle was built 1283-1287 and Harlech Castle 1285-1290. Caernarvon
was begun the same year as Harlech, but was not completed until 1322,
after Edward’s death. Beaumaris was built 1295-1320 (this last castle
was never finished). Edward also remodeled several existing castles throughout
England into concentric forms. The most notable of these was the Tower
Harlech Castle (the castle featured in The Castle Builder’s Handbook)
was the last of the great Edwardian castles to be completed during the
king’s lifetime, and exhibits the ultimate concepts in castle construction.
It as been said that Harlech was the favorite castle of James of St George.
The castle was located on an immense crag at the edge of Cardigan Bay
in northwest Wales. It consists of a rectangular inner bailey with four
powerful round towers at the corners and a massive gatehouse in the front
center. The towering walls of the inner bailey were surrounded by much
lower walls surrounding the middle bailey (the middle bailey was also
referred to as the park or list). The walls of the middle bailey were
made low enough that archers from the tall inner walls could shoot over
them to the ground beyond.
The front approach to the castle was protected by a ditch, crossed by
a bridge with a drawbridge at each end. The first drawbridge was protected
by two small towers, making a partial barbican (a small forward castle).
The second drawbridge was protected by a larger front gate in the outer
wall surrounding the middle bailey.
The right and back of the castle were defended by a long outermost wall
surrounding an outer bailey. The land sloped rapidly in the outer bailey,
and the approach to the back of the castle is by a long flight of stairs.
This part of the castle is not shown in the plans but can be constructed
as a temporary wall.
As long as the harbor was open to the castle, Harlech Castle was unassailable.
During the Welsh rebellion of 1294, thirty-seven men defended Harlech
against the entire Welsh army. The castle fell to Owen Glendower in the
early 1400s, helped by a French fleet that cut off supplies from the sea
to the castle. Forty men, the famous “Men of Harlech,” defended
the castle against Glendower. In 1409, it required a ferocious attack
of 1000 professional soldiers, led by John Talbot, to retake the castle
for the king of England. As late as the 1640s, Harlech was the last of
the royalist castles in Wales to fall to parliamentary forces. Even during
this Civil War, the Harlech garrison was only fifty strong. This is the
ultimate definition of a castle: a stronghold that can be held by a minimal
number of soldiers against a much larger and stronger force.
One of the major considerations in determining
the size of the castle is what size of soldiers will be used with it:
1/32, 1/64, 1/72, 1/132 scale, etc. Conversely, the scale of the soldiers
will be determined to some extent by the physical size you have already
set for the castle. Selecting soldiers is not an easy proposition. Medieval
knights in some of the scales are not all that easy to come by. Noncombatants – serfs and castle workers –are not available at all, except
perhaps from very expensive specialty museum model companies.
The small figures (1/72, 22 mm) allow for the construction of smaller
castles, but the detail is not as good as with some larger figures. Middle-sized
figures (1/64 scale, 25 mm) are small enough to make relatively small
castles and are large enough to have good detail. However, these figures
are among some of the most expensive. Larger figures (1/32 scale, 54 mm)
usually have the best detail and are the easiest to play with. However,
at present, this is the most difficult scale to find figures. The 54 mm
scale figures are what we typically think of as “toy figures.”
In making suggestions on castle occupants, I will confine consideration
to two types of soldier: the classic medieval knight and soldier in armor,
and the classic “toy soldier,” that is, the 18th century Napoleonic
soldier. If the former is your choice then the typical medieval castle
will be the best. If you choose the latter then it would be better to
include the later additions made in castles for cannon placements, or
the specific cannon forts. In cannon forts, the sides were sloped to deflect
There are several companies around, which can be found on the internet
by searching for “toy soldier.” I purchase my figures from
The Michigan Toy Soldier Company
1406 E 11 Mile Road
Royal Oak, MI 48067
Silver Eagle Wargame Supplies
4417 West 24th Place
Lawrence, KS 66047
6721 Baymeadow Drive
Glen Burnie, MD 21060-6401
Michigan Toy Soldier has the greatest selection of 1/72 (22 mm) figures,
at the best price (less than $10, including shipping, for a box of 30-40
figures). They also have a limited number of 1/32 (54 mm) figures at a
reasonable price ($15 for 12 figures). They have figures from many periods,
such as Roman, Celt, and Egyptian armies (all 1/72), which are difficult
to find elsewhere. They have figures in lead and rubber.
Silver Eagle offers 1/64 (25 mm) lead figures. There are few from the
medieval period – the most common early figures are from the 17th
century. However, these figures can be painted, with striking results.
The price is reasonable ($1 or less per figure).
Games Workshop is the source for Warhammer Fantasy miniatures in 1/64
(25 mm) scale. These are plastic, with some lead, and are larger and more
detailed than other 25 mm scale figures. For example, although the men
are actually 25 mm – the same height as other 25 mm men – they are thicker and more detailed than other figures. Horses from this
company are twice the size of the rather undersized horses offered by
other companies in the 25 mm scale range. These are probably the best,
most detailed figures available and they paint up beautifully. There are
also lots of fantasy characters available, such and fairies and goblins.
They are somewhat limited, however, in the range of available figure choices.
They are also the most expensive ($1.50 to $35.00) per figure.
No matter which type of soldiers you decide to use in your castle, it
is important that you purchase at least one figure in your scale of choice
before beginning construction. That will allow you to make the battlements,
and other features such as arrow slits and windows, just the right size.
Throughout the construction guide itself, I will assume that you have
chosen your scale and have a figure to work with, so I will limit any
further reference to scale.